Pope Francis renews call to welcome refugees while ensuring security

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Pope Francis is greeted by an ambassador and during an audience with the diplomatic corps at the Vatican on January 11, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-REFUGEE, originally transmitted on Jan. 11, 2016.

Pope Francis is greeted by an ambassador and during an audience with the diplomatic corps at the Vatican on January 11, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-REFUGEE, originally transmitted on Jan. 11, 2016.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis has called on European leaders not to turn their back on refugees and migrants despite the cultural and security challenges associated with the arrival of 1 million people this past year.

Francis has made concern for migrants a centerpiece of his papacy, and on Monday (Jan. 11) in his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See he again urged governments to “overcome the inevitable fears associated with this massive and formidable phenomenon.”

In the wide-ranging, 45-minute address, the pope said the refugee crisis recalls the epic stories of mass migrations in the Bible with people fleeing powerful forces to seek safety and freedom, often at a terrible cost.

“Now as then, we hear Rachel weeping for her children who are no more,” he said, a reference to passages from both the Book of Jeremiah and the Gospel of Matthew.

“Hers is the plea of thousands of people who weep as they flee horrific wars, persecutions and human rights violations, or political or social instability, which often make it impossible for them to live in their native lands,” Francis told the diplomats.

“It is the outcry of those forced to flee in order to escape unspeakable acts of cruelty towards vulnerable persons, such as children and the disabled, or martyrdom solely on account of their religion.”

More than 1 million people arrived in Europe by sea last year, the vast majority from the world’s top 10 refugee-producing countries. An estimated 3,771 people died or went missing attempting the crossing.

In his speech, which one Vatican observer characterized as the “geopolitics of mercy and realism,” Francis highlighted “the inevitable problems” such an influx creates, as countries struggle to accommodate newcomers to new cultural and social norms.

“Equally significant are fears about security, further exacerbated by the growing threat of international terrorism,” he said, nodding at powerful anti-immigrant sentiments that have inflamed debates in Europe and North America.

Francis noted that next month he would be visiting Mexico and Ciudad Juarez, on the border with Texas, to draw attention to the immigration issue, which has become a focal point of the U.S. presidential campaign.

Such questions have been especially prominent in Germany this month following attacks on women in German cities on New Year’s Eve believed to have been carried out by asylum seekers or migrants.

On Sunday, a group of Pakistanis and a Syrian were attacked in separate incidents in Cologne apparently in retaliation.

While not addressing these incidents specifically, Francis said governments have a “two-fold moral responsibility” to protect both citizens and migrants.

The pontiff said those societies hosting migrants must also acknowledge the “beneficial contribution” a migrant can bring to a community.

Francis praised a number of countries for their acceptance of refugees, particularly Lebanon and Jordan, which have given haven to 1.7 million Syrians. He also highlighted the efforts made by Turkey, Greece and Italy, telling diplomats that nations in the forefront of the current crisis should not be left alone.

The pope directed strong criticism to states for failing to address the multiple causes of migration, which he said led to disasters that could have been prevented.

“Before it is too late, much could be done to end these tragedies and to build peace,” he said. “But that would mean rethinking entrenched habits and practices, beginning with issues involving the arms trade, the provision of raw materials and energy, investment, policies of financing and sustainable development, and even the grave scourge of corruption.”

Describing the dangerous and traumatic experiences suffered by migrants, Francis said governments must act to put a stop to the human smuggling trade: “I once more appeal for an end to trafficking in persons, which turns human beings, especially the weakest and most defenseless, into commodities.

“The image of all those children who died at sea, victims of human callousness and harsh weather, will remain forever imprinted on our minds and hearts.”

(Rosie Scammell covers the Vatican for RNS)

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  • “The image of all those children who died at sea, victims of human callousness..remain forever imprinted on our minds and hearts.”

    Yes indeed.
    And I blame religion for those horrors. Shia vs. Sunni vs. Alawite – People killing over which version of the sky fairy is more real (good luck).

    The Pope forgets the Catholics did the same thing 100 years ago:

    1917 – WWI Christendom explodes on itself. Millions died.
    1933 – Vatican Peace Treaty with Catholic Nazi Regime blessing WWII and Hitler’s Jewish Solution
    1942 – The Vatican-Argentina Rat Line – Monsignor Luigi Maglione’s hushed up emigration of 200,000 Catholic Nazi war criminals to South America to escape justice.

    “We shall eagerly cooperate with the Nazis…send them our Jews.”
    – Father Joseph Tiso,
    President of Slovakia 1944.

    The cure for one religion is not a different religion, but blasphemy which it deserves.

  • Jan Sobieski

    Pope Francis ought to take all the radical Muslims refugees that the Vatcan can hold — but the radicLs wouldn’t want to go because there are very few infidel women to rape in the Vatican. We need Pope Benedict back because he understood Islam — that’s why they persuaded him to retire.

  • Betty Clermont

    According to the Italian business newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, the Vatican has assets of 9-10 billion euro (investments, properties, gold reserves, bank accounts) So far only one Syrian Catholic family of four is being sheltered there.

  • Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    We are all refugees privileged to be walking on God’s Holy Ground and living in God’s time.

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